Messy, but fun.
Months ago we saw Motorstorm and wondered if it would be the Playstation 3’s killer ap, or just another expensive disappointment. It didn’t occur to us that the game could be both. Motorstorm is cool looking and fun to play, but there’s more to a car than a fast engine and sexy looks. A little more time in the shop would have helped this flawed racer, but at least most of the pieces are in place for this game to be a serious hot rod.
Billed as a ‘vehicle combat’ racer, Motorstorm
may bring back memories of EA’s Road Rash
series with bikers punching at each other. Except suddenly a semi truck comes over a jump and lands on the biker. Each course has multiple levels for bikes, buggies, cars and trucks to crisscross past each other depending on which trail you’re willing to trust. It looks and sounds great, even if it hits a few bumps along the way.
is just the kind of visual showcase
that PS3 owners hope will justify their $599 investment. In the foreground, your car is kicking up rocks and leaving tire tracks in the mud; dirt occasionally splatters on the screen itself like a windshield, and when you crash your whole vehicle dismantles itself piece by piece and in slow motion. The background stretches into a distant horizon, and the sky is dotted with hot air balloons and other tiny details. It’s pretty awesome (especially at panoramic heights), set to a rockin’ soundtrack and slowing down for spectacular crashes.
The nine tracks don’t seem like much, but try each one with the seven different vehicles and your race time will start to add up. Each track focuses on one high concept like heavy mud or jumping across pillars, so the multiplayer matches have a cool strategy component. Will you race on your turf, or master a new terrain? It’s easy enough to hop online and test your stuff against up to eleven players.
Cruising around the chaotic, beautiful landscapes is a joy but the game stalls on a few key points; for one, Motorstorm isn’t so great to play by itself. The more traditional single-player mode takes away all of the choice and most of the fun. Most of the tracks are locked, and many races force you to use a specific vehicle. If you’re struggling with the dune buggies on level two, then you’d better practice or give it up. The AI drivers are ruthless from the very start, so single-player is a grueling race to not mess up.
The sweet physics and branching paths stand out, but they don’t justify or fix the ho-hum gameplay. Motorstorm is just that kind of racing game where, even if you’re in first place, the slightest mistake can send you back to last place. The turbo boost is the only real player-controlled game mechanic that can get you ahead of (or catch you up to) the other cars. It feels like a crutch as much as it feels like a boost.
The “vehicle combat” isn’t so great when you get around to it. The cars stop dead when they touch anything, so ramming into other cars is one more way to fall into last place. Most of the ‘combat’ involves nudging other cars out of your way, then pulling free long enough to pull ahead. This is an unexpected disappointment in such a tough-looking game. Some levels even have ramps or other traps which point directly at obstacles or turns, so you’ll need to master those before you can even keep your pace up through a whole level; there are a few weird spots where you explode seconds before a collision or just for driving onto a ramp, which is total bull.
It’s hard to linger on these issues, because it’s so fun to tear up some mud with Wolf Mother blasting. Whether you use the analog stick, d-pad or motion tilt to steer, the controls in Motorstorm are well-tuned; I especially liked how I could switch between the stick and d-pad in-game for different levels of sensitivity. It all felt smooth enough that I wanted to blaze through the thousand crummy menus and loading screens and race already.
is a good example of why PS3 games are switching to a smaller downloadable format; there’s a fun game here but it felt a bit lightweight for a full-fledged release. So assuming you aren’t one of those fancy French Formula One
fans, get a little mud action on that PS3 of yours.